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Ancient Greek Legacy: Why University Edifices Emulate Ancient Greek Structures

Updated: Feb 21

"Men can have control over their future, independent of the gods and the deities, dependent on their capacity to reason." I tell students this underpins Western Civilization and makes it unique.


Prompt given OpenAI Large Language Model ChatGPT-4: Is it safe to say that Ancient Greek thinkers at large believe that men can have control, ergo they can predict the future, independent of the gods and deities, dependent on their capacity to reason?



Ancient Greek temple in Segesta. Photograph by Derbrauni (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Derbrauni)


ChatGPT-4: The belief among Ancient Greek thinkers about the relationship between human control, the ability to predict the future, and the role of gods and deities was not uniform but rather varied across different philosophers and schools of thought.


  1. Determinism vs Free Will: Some Greek thinkers leaned towards determinism, the belief that all events, including human actions, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. This doesn't necessarily imply the ability to predict the future but suggests a lack of free will. The Stoics, for instance, believed in a deterministic universe governed by divine reason (logos), but they also emphasized human agency in living according to nature and reason.

  2. Role of the Gods: In many Greek philosophical traditions, the gods played a significant role in human affairs. For example, in Homeric tradition, the gods were deeply involved in human events. However, later philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had more nuanced views. Plato, in his dialogues, often portrays Socrates discussing the gods and their role in human life, suggesting a balance between divine influence and human reason.

  3. Human Reason and Prediction: The capacity for reason was highly valued in Greek philosophy, but its power to predict the future varied among thinkers. Aristotle's works, for instance, demonstrate a belief in the power of human reason to understand the natural world, but he doesn't necessarily argue that this allows for precise predictions of future events.

  4. Empedocles and Pre-Socratic Thought: Pre-Socratic philosophers like Empedocles introduced ideas that combined naturalistic explanations for the universe with traditional religious beliefs. They sought to understand the world through reason and observation, but their views on the predictability of the future were not clear-cut.

In summary, while Ancient Greek thinkers highly valued human reason and sought to understand the world through it, their beliefs about control over the future and the role of gods varied. Some believed in a deterministic universe guided by divine reason, while others emphasized a balance between human agency and divine influence. The ability to predict the future was not universally claimed in Greek philosophy and was often seen as limited or subject to the whims of the gods.


Prompt: Is there any renowned Ancient Greek thinker who has not believed somehow that men can have control over their future, ergo capacity to predict the the future, independent of the gods and deities, dependent on their capacity to reason?


ChatGPT-4:


In ancient Greek philosophy, the view that humans can control and predict their future independently of the gods, relying solely on reason, was not a universally held belief. While many philosophers emphasized the importance of reason and human agency, they often recognized limits to human control, especially in predicting the future. Here are a few examples:


  1. Socrates: Socrates, as represented in Plato's dialogues, focused on ethical and moral questions and the importance of knowledge and virtue. He often engaged in discussions about the role of the gods and fate. While Socrates emphasized the importance of human wisdom and ethical understanding, he didn't advocate for the idea that humans could predict or control their future independently of divine or cosmic influences.

  2. Plato: Plato, a student of Socrates, also placed significant emphasis on reason and the pursuit of knowledge. However, in his works, the metaphysical and the realm of the Forms played a crucial role, suggesting that ultimate understanding and aspects of human destiny were intertwined with a reality beyond mere human reasoning. Plato's concept of the Demiurge in the "Timaeus" suggests a universe crafted by a divine artisan, indicating a balance between divine order and human affairs.

  3. Aristotle: Aristotle, a student of Plato, is known for his emphasis on logic and empirical observation. He believed in the potential of human reason to understand the natural world. However, Aristotle also acknowledged the role of chance and necessity in the universe, suggesting that not all aspects of the future are predictable or controllable by human reason.

  4. Stoics: The Stoics, like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, believed in a deterministic universe governed by a rational principle (Logos). They emphasized living in accordance with nature and virtue, suggesting that while one can control one's responses and attitudes, many aspects of life (including the future) are determined by fate and are beyond human control.

  5. Epicureans: Epicurus and his followers believed in a universe based on atomic theory, where the gods were distant and uninvolved in human affairs. While they advocated for a life guided by reason and the pursuit of pleasure (in the sense of freedom from pain and anxiety), they didn't claim that humans could predict the future through reason alone. Instead, they focused on achieving tranquility in the present.


These philosophers, while valuing reason and human agency, recognized the complexities of fate, the divine, and the limitations of human capacity to control or predict the future. Their philosophies often involved a balance between recognizing the power of human reason and acknowledging the roles of chance, necessity, and in some cases, the divine.


Prompt: But none have said they do not have the capacity to reason independent of the gods and the deities..., correct?


ChatGPT-4: That's correct. Ancient Greek philosophers generally did not deny the capacity of humans to reason independently of the gods and deities. The hallmark of Greek philosophy, especially from the Pre-Socratic period onward, was indeed the pursuit of knowledge and understanding through reason. Philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and others from various schools of thought, such as the Stoics and Epicureans, placed significant emphasis on the power and importance of human reason.


Key points to consider:


  1. Human Reason and Independence: The Greek philosophical tradition is known for its emphasis on the power of human reason. This intellectual movement marked a departure from earlier mythological explanations of the world, suggesting that humans could understand the world through rational inquiry and observation.

  2. Gods and the Role of Reason: While the gods were an integral part of Greek culture and religion, many philosophers sought to understand the world in terms that were not solely reliant on divine intervention or explanation. For instance, Aristotle's works focus extensively on categorizing and understanding the natural world through observation and logic.

  3. Different Philosophical Schools: Different schools of thought had varying perspectives on the role of the gods. For example, the Epicureans believed the gods existed but were indifferent to human affairs, implying that human reasoning and decision-making were largely independent of divine influence. The Stoics, on the other hand, believed in a rational order to the universe (Logos), but this did not negate the value they placed on personal virtue and rational living.

  4. Socratic Method and Ethical Reasoning: Socrates, as portrayed in Plato's dialogues, emphasized ethical reasoning and the pursuit of virtue through dialectic methods. He sought moral and philosophical truths through rational discussion and questioning, indicating a belief in the power of human reason.


In summary, while the ancient Greek philosophers acknowledged the presence and significance of gods and deities in their cultural and religious contexts, they strongly advocated for the capacity of human reason as an independent and crucial tool for understanding the world and making decisions. Their philosophies often represent a balance between divine elements and human rationality, rather than a complete rejection of one in favor of the other.


Earlier than circa 600 BC, Ancient Greeks have predicted events on the basis of magic, witchcraft or mythology -- same as in all other ancient civilizations with no exception. What mattered in those days have been what the deities, demons, or gods said. Thanks to the invention of philosophy as a discipline, the general attitude among them has changed.


"Each fountain lived in its nymph, each wood in its dryad. The grain bearing earth was personified as Demeter; the unharnessed sea came to life in Poseidon, the earth-shaker." (William Cecil Dampier)


"When the sun's sharp strength and humid heat abate, all-powerful Zeus brings the rains of autumn and men begin to feel far more comfortable... then, when the trees lose their leaves and stop growing, the timber you cut will be least liable to worm. So remember to cut your wood then: that is the season for such work...." (Strephen Toulmin and June Goodfield)

"People suffering from fits had hitherto been regarded as 'possessed by spirits,' and the Delphic Oracle herself delivered 'divinely inspired' prophecies while in a state of induced frenzy. So epilepsy and other conditions in which the patient was temporarily 'out of his mind' seemed to be quite unlike those other diseases whose causes were clearly physical. (Toulmin and Goodfield)


Prompt: Put it in another way, none among the Ancient Greek philosophers have said they do not have the capacity to reason, ergo to predict, independent of the gods and deities?

ChatGPT-4: Your question touches on a nuanced aspect of ancient Greek philosophy. To clarify:


  1. Capacity to Reason: Ancient Greek philosophers widely held that humans have the capacity to reason. This capacity was seen as a defining characteristic of humanity and a crucial tool for understanding the world. Philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and others from various schools (Stoics, Epicureans) emphasized the importance and power of reason.

  2. Reason and Prediction: While these philosophers valued reason, they generally did not equate the capacity to reason with the ability to predict the future. Reason was seen as a means to understand, categorize, and explain the world, but not necessarily as a tool for predicting future events with certainty. The Greek philosophical tradition is rich with discussions on the limits of human knowledge and the unpredictability of many aspects of life.

  3. Independence from Gods and Deities: The relationship between human reasoning and the gods varied among different philosophers and schools of thought. However, most did not explicitly state that the capacity to reason and predict was entirely independent of the gods and deities. For instance, in Plato's works, the gods still play a role in the cosmos, and in Stoicism, the universe is governed by a rational principle (Logos) which is also divine.

  4. Prediction and Divine Influence: Many Greek philosophers recognized that certain aspects of the world, including future events, might be influenced by or known to the gods but not fully accessible to human reason. The idea of predicting the future, particularly in a world where the gods were believed to be active, was complex and not fully attributed to human reason alone.


In summary, while ancient Greek philosophers affirmed the capacity to reason as a key human attribute, they generally did not claim that this ability granted the power to predict the future, especially independent of any divine or mystical influences. Reason was a tool for understanding and explaining the world rather than for foreseeing future events with certainty.


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